Worshipping of Aesir sky gods in Denmark
Worshipping the Old Norse gods may sound like something out of a Lord of the Rings novel, but to the asatruars it is a very real and deeply religious truth.
Asatru is an official religion, recognized by the Danish state in November 2003, under the name of the community Forn Siðr. Since then, asatruars have been allowed to legally marry and be buried in a Heathen burial place in Odense (Denmark). The religion reveres nature as sacred, ensouled or alive, and draw on pagan beliefs and practices of the past.
“Getting to know your ancestors is a way to know yourself, and how you act in your life. The ancient values are timeless and fundamental to be able to treat each other in a fair and respectful way.”
The event Greatþing
According to sociologist Morten Warmind, Asatru is the fastest growing polytheistic religion in Denmark, a country where 80% of the people are part of the Christian church. The pagan event Greatþing — a festive gathering of a couple of dozen of asatruars–, took place in Vinderup, Denmark, marked by 4 days of celebration. The Nordisk Tingsfællig association, one among the several asatruar groups spread throughout Denmark, gather to host theological and bureaucratic debates and couple them with pleasant socializing.
Four rituals were held during the revelries, culminating in a feast during Saturday evening, May 17. Offerings as well as libations were made during the rituals, consisting of different meals of fruits, steaks and veggies, to the four wooden idols standing aside in the private house’s garden, representing Odin, Thor, Frey, Freya.
Started at the end of the 70s, thanks to a period of experimental years, the Asatru religion (tr. faith in the Æsir-the Germanic gods) now has about 2000 members that are increasing every year. Asatru is directly descended from the religious culture of the Norse-Germanic people. Even though there are no remaining writings from the pre-Christian era, except the work Germania by Cornelius Tacitus, where germans lifestyle was openly described, asatruars mostly connect to their ancestors through the Eddic poems. The Poetic Edda is the most important source of ancient Germanic mythology, written in Iceland in the 13th century, althought it was contextualized in the pagan era. The religion focuses on the values of the Vikings ancestors, those who influenced the way Scandinavian people live and behave. The modern world is often associated with lack of care for the ecology and the conservation of the environment, and that is why asatruers are looking back at their roots. In a largely progressive environment, the main concern for most of the Danes is in fact to push forward, forgetting where people are from, and because of that, people and cities tend to lose their own identities.
“Viking culture is something latent in Scandinavian countries, that simply cannot be denied. As Vikings used to say, you need the community around you for a well-being life”.
“’The only tree that stands in the top of the mountain, will fade because it has no bushes or smaller trees to protect it from the wind.’ We need the crowd, otherwise we will fade.”
Self-styled heathens are firmly linked to nature, the place where they worship their gods the most, and in which they usually make rituals and sacrifices, due to their focus on fertility and prosperity. The rituals are most commonly held four times a year around the summer- and winter solstice, and the spring- and autumn equinox. The most important ritual is the blót, that usually involves the participants standing in a circle, toasting in mead -an alcoholic drink made of fermented honey and water- giving offerings, speaking, praying and singing — often in a turn-based setting lead by a ritual leader called a goði. After the blót there will usually be a feast with a ritualized meal, made of meat and vegetable, stoasting and general merry-making. Idols of gods, fire and recitation of Old Norse poetry and myths are often included in rituals as well.
“If more people would adopt a more religious way of seeing things, there will surely be more responsibility for the future and meaning to their life, and they will easily increase their honour after death.”
Mass media and new believers
Asatru has lately become a global phenomenon. Of course we cannot deny that there is a fascinating trend in western society that shows us the beauty of the magical and fantasy world. A lot of recent TV series, especially in Scandinavia, now focus on the German and Viking age, developing episodes that aim to hit even targets that are not aware of their own roots. In a world full of pressures and problems, more people tend to escape into a parallel world created by modern entertainment. This is partially responsible for fuelling the revival of a way of life harkening back to a time before the introduction of Christianity.
“The new EU state doesn’t fit values of young Europeans, that see in these series a chance to discover the pride and the strength that are hidden inside themselves. Of course seeing also very beautiful women and strong men fighting helps”
The Asatru religion focuses on the value of being in a community, whereas in the modern world people aim on self-realization through an individualistic approach. The Viking values, such as honor, strength, family values and togetherness, are also linked to the necessity of practicing the religion actively, through rituals and sacrifices, helping an historical revivalism of the ancient practises.
The general idea that Christianity brought about faith, in which if you believe in your heart then you are considered religious, is partially rejected by the asatruers, that instead prefer to make actions in a way that make them be considered as religious. In Asatru, people are free to believe in what they choose, abandoning typical conversion techniques employed by other major religions over the years.
“Doing sacrifices is a way comparable to paying taxes to the church, you share something with the gods because you want something back”.
The focus of the organization is to re-establish the importance of the community, and to acquire land that can provide a place to asetruars for worshipping the gods in smaller groups.
More than anything, cultural participation trumps faith for the Nordisk Tingsfællig trying to connect with traditions and values from a time long past, often forgotten and overshadowed by modern 21st century existence and faith. While some may point at neo-paganism as a kind of critique campaign that promotes the rejection of the Christian tradition, neo-pagans simply look at the fact that recent concerns, such as environmentalism and feminism, tend to be seen as the loss of pagan wisdom dismissed by Christianity.